I often get asked about how to transition into the charity sector, so I wanted to share a recent story of a person who successfully made the leap from Senior Police Officer to CEO for a charity supporting children and young people with disabilities.

There were some useful insights from the process and this could offer some advice to those navigating the often-tricky path from one sector to another.

There were three aspects of this assignment that stood out:

Point 1: Organisational confidence and resilience

The organisation was in a confident position after a period of development and change under the former CEO. They had a strong, expert team in place, a stable and capable board, and good relationships with key stakeholders and partners. They had also re-evaluated their values and had embedded these across the organisation.

They determined that the most important quality would be collaborative and enabling leadership; a trait that would continue to empower the team and strengthen key stakeholder relationships. Above all, the new CEO needed to be someone who would put the service users and their families at the centre of their approach.

This confidence and resilience allowed for the organisation to be open to considering applicants from different backgrounds provided they could prove the core skills and values that were integral to the role.

Key message: A confident and resilient organisation with a stable, expert team are more likely to be open to leadership qualities that speak to transferable skills, personal values, and approach over technical expertise.

Point 2: Explore the possibility with the recruiter & sense check your case

In this example, the candidate had put time into thinking about how his experience would transfer to such a role. He then reached out to me to put forward his case, and to seek to understand if the trustees would even be responsive to his prior experience.

He thought about the nature of his role, which had a strong emphasis on working collaboratively to get things done. He showcased how his developmental and enabling leadership approach had got the best out of his teams. He had also thought about how his networks could complement and add to those the charity already had. He was able to tie these factors back into the goals and the values of the organisation to show the board the benefit to the charity.

He was able to articulate his motivation and values to the board, prove how he had a profound impact on his community, and show how his previous experience, though in a different field, had achieved the same aims as the organisation – to support children and young people.

Key message: Do your research on the goals and values of the organisation, think about your transferable skills, and back up your case using clear evidence. Sense check and feel confident in your motivation and your message.

Point 3: Be authentic and open to learning

This candidate had a keen awareness of who he was and what he stood for, and he expressed this honestly and consistently throughout the selection stages.

He communicated clearly and convincingly and was aware of the needs of different audiences throughout the process – trustees, services users, their families and carers, and other key stakeholders.

He was also upfront about gaps in his knowledge, yet demonstrated a passion for learning. He took personal responsibility for the ways he would learn about the environment, the regulatory context, and considerations around safeguarding, as well as how he could engage others to support this learning.

This self-awareness and openness to learning, alongside his leadership abilities, made a strong impression.

Key message: Communicate clearly, know your audience, and be self-aware about where you need more learning.

Though the organisational context will always be important, if you are looking to transition into a different sector it’s important to:

  • Find an organisation that is open to different backgrounds
  • Think about how your experience translates and show your compatibility
  • Show you are open to learning and getting up to speed with what you don’t know

If you would like to chat further about transitioning into the charity sector, please email Philippa Fabry: Philippa@peridotpartners.co.uk